When LWR and our partner IDF (Integrated Development Fund) first arrived at the Chak-ewaj village in India in September 2009, the villagers weren’t interested in working with them. Most of the households were already engaged in small businesses, living day-to-day off of their earning at the local market. There was never enough money to set aside for savings, though, as the villagers had to work with a middle man (a money lender who charged an interest rate of 2% per day, quite high compared to the small profit margin of the market.) This was just considered the cost of doing business, even if it meant that there was not quite enough food to feed the entire family at the end of the day, or anything for illness and emergencies. The initial introduction to the project activities that LWR and IDF wanted to start appeared to be very lengthy, and the villagers were uncertain about the benefits of participation.
Yet there was so much to gain. This three-year project was designed to help women from the lowest castes or tribes gain income through alternative livelihoods. The project was also meant to provide access to credit and enhance awareness about government programs, provisions and systems related to health, education and rural development for long term sustainability. Through LWR and IDF’s program in the village, the women would no longer have to depend on the money lender and could start a savings plan in their community, with support from their fellow villagers.
With encouragement and support from LWR and IDF, the project staff members were persistent in working with the village. After six months of meetings, discussions and more explanation provided about the projects, the community agreed. The village women established two Self Help Groups, where women from each household could come together to discuss community issues, participate in group savings and loans, and gain valuable literacy, mathematics and business planning skills. For some women in the village, this would be their first social interaction outside of the home. For others, it was an opportunity to share their concerns and seek counsel from those with similar situations. For all of the women, it was an empowering change in their role in their household and in their community.
Anita Devi joined the Shiv Mahila Self Help Group in Chak-ewaj in January 2010. Her primary interests in joining were “to save funds for the future, and also to gain some social strength” in her household and community. In her family, Anita was fortunate that her husband supported and encouraged her to join the SHG and participate fully.
Previously, Anita had a small vegetable shop in the Sarai market. She rented land for 600 rupees per month, and sold her vegetables at the market. The owner of the land, though, would often come to visit her, make rude comments and frequently take some of her vegetables. After several days of the same occurrence, Anita decided to raise this issue with her Self Help Group and ask them for advice.
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In the meeting, Anita shared the problems she was facing — her frustration with her reduced profits because the landlord had been stealing her vegetables. All of the members advised her to vacate the land and search for a new place, but Anita was very hesitant. It would cost additional money and time to cultivate new crops elsewhere. As the group continued to discuss the problem, they decided that they would support Anita by providing her with the working capital of 5,000 rupees, which would not only serve as a deposit to a new landlord, but also allow her to expand the types of vegetable crops she could plant. This loan also allowed Anita to start her new business smoothly. Moreover, Anita was able to find a plot of land that cost less than her previous land rental, saving her even more money.
Now, Anita is a very happy woman. The profit from her shop has risen to 100-150 rupees per day. She gives all the credit to her Self Help Group who helped and supported her and the LWR project that provided an opportunity for a dignified life.